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Salzburg in Winter: A Massively Detailed Guide

Salzburg in winter is an absolute delight: as a city that resembles a fairytale village complete with an looming castle on a hill, a city that appreciates the glitz and beauty of a winter concert, a city that is home to fabulously cozy cafes, and–of course–a city that is home to some of the best Christmas markets in the world, winter is undoubtedly a time for Salzburg to shine.

Planning a trip to Salzburg in winter? Here’s absolutely everything you need to know–from what to do to what to wear!

Salzburg in Winter: River at night

The Best Things to Do in Salzburg in Winter

Go crazy for the Christmas markets.

I mean, how could we not start here, right?

More than a dozen Christmas markets later, Salzburg is home to our favorite ones: with their beautiful layouts, tasty snacks, surprisingly affordable prices, and jaw-droppingly beautiful ornament stands, it’s impossible not to fall in love.

If all that wasn’t enough, Salzburg’s main Christmas market has been spreading festive cheer for more than 500 years, making it one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe!

Salzburg in Winter: Christmas Ornaments

Attend a gorgeous Mozart concert.

Mozart’s birthplace and home during his upbringing and early years as a composer has certainly not forgotten either him or his music.

With a winter concert, you can appreciate several aspects of Salzburg at once: the beauty of the city, the compositions of Mozart, and, depending on which concert you choose to attend, a traditional Austrian dinner!

This beautiful concert takes place right inside Mirabell Palace!

Or, for an extra-special experience, consider adding attending a dinner concert at Baroque Hall!

Marvel at the beauty of the Altstadt.

Salzburg’s old town is a delight to wander through: boasting colorful buildings, charming clock towers, and pastel colors in every direction, it’s undoubtedly a beautiful place.

Add in the views of the Alps that catch your eye as you round several corners, and it’s downright magical.

Salzburg in Winter: Altstadt

Sip hot chocolate at Cafe Tomaselli.

Hot chocolate in Austria is an unmitigated delight–and when you can sip a cup during a cold winter day in Salzburg while tucked into a corner of Mozart’s favorite cafe, it’s even better.

Cafe Tomaselli’s history with Salzburg’s most famous former resident has made it quite popular, so be prepared for crowds if you visit: there is no host or hostess, so simply dive into the crowd and hope to find a table!

Also, fair warning, they allow smoking upstairs.

If Cafe Tomaselli is too crowded (either by virtue of having nowhere to sit or just not being relaxed enough for your taste), you can also consider paying a visit to Cafe Sacher or Cafe Bazar.

Salzburg in Winter: Cafe Tomaselli

Visit the Hohensalzburg Fortress.

Looming impressively over the city, Hohensalzburg Fortress is an unmistakable part of the Salzburg cityscape–and it should come as no surprise that some of the best views of Salzburg are visible from their grounds!

Visits to the fortress, depending on time, can include anything from castle tours to falconry demonstrations.

If you’d like to save a few Euros on your entrance ticket, consider climbing the 15 minutes or so up to the castle yourself instead of taking the funicular–the views are lovely and the walk reasonable.

Salzburg in Winter: Hohensalzburg Fortress

Tour Mozart’s birthplace & residence.

It can be a bit confusing, but there are two Mozart homes in Salzburg to be aware of: the Mozart birthplace, where he was born and spent his early years, and the Mozart Residence, which is a grander space where the family moved in Mozart’s teens.

I’ll be honest: we toured the residence and found it somewhat interesting, but overpriced. If you’re not particularly interested in Mozart or classical music, you can probably skip it… though that being said, it makes a great backup option on a bad weather day.

We didn’t visit the birthplace, but it looks a bit more interesting and includes an example of a middle-class apartment in Salzburg in the 18th century, depicted as accurately as possible.

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Learn the history of Silent Night.

One of the most famous Christmas carols in the world originated just outside of Salzburg, and there’s no better time than December to learn the local story. You can also visit the song locations from Silent Night in Austria without traveling far!

Climb the steps at Imbergstiege (aka the Dark Staircase).

This beautiful staircase isn’t one you’ll likely stumble across without intending to–but it’s a unique spot and it is worth taking the time to check it out.

Salzburg in Winter: Dark Staircase

Enjoy views from the gardens near Kapuzinerkloster Monastery.

Your reward for climbing the steps at Imbergstiege are these gardens: while the gardens themselves won’t exactly be at their best during a winter trip to Salzburg, the views of Salzburg’s Altstadt across the river are still magnificent!

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Hunt down filming locations from The Sound of Music.

Much of The Sound of Music was filmed in and around Salzburg, and film locations dot the city!

While some are fairly easy to find independently (like the steps in the Mirabell Gardens where Do-Re-Mi was filmed), others are a bit outside of Salzburg–if you choose to book a tour, you’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone.

With a tour, you’ll be able to check out filming locations you probably wouldn’t see otherwise (like Nonnberg Abbey and Leopoldskron Palace, which was the exterior of the Trapp home) and also visit stunning locations and viewpoints in the Lake District.

This Sound of Music Tour covers several filming locations in & around Salzburg, and is extremely popular!

Salzburg in WInter: Mirabell Gardens

Pay a visit to the Museum of Modern Art.

In addition to an impressive modern art collection, Salzburg’s Museum of Modern Art also plays host to one of the best views of the city from their terrace–and you don’t need to buy a ticket to the museum to enjoy those views.

The best way to reach the Museum of Modern Art is by taking a ride on the Moenchsberg Lift.

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Explore the DomQuartier.

More than simply one museum, Salzburg’s DomQuartier is a Baroque marvel that includes several museums and beautiful viewpoints within its walls!

Marvel at the Salzburg Cathedral.

The baroque interior of Salzburg’s Cathedral is a marvel, and also a very peaceful place to escape the cold for a few minutes (and the hectic nature of the Christmas market happening right outside the door if you happen to be visiting Salzburg in December).

Winter in Salzburg: Salzburg Cathedral Interior

The Salzburg Card: Is it Worth the Money?

If you’re planning to visit 3 or more museums (for example, the Mozart Birthplace, Mozart Residence, Hohensalzburg Fortress, and Museum of Modern Art are all included) and take advantage of public transportation while in Salzburg, the card will definitely be worth your money.

It includes a one-time free admission to most Salzburg museums and attractions, as well as unlimited public transportation for the time the card is valid.

If, however, you’re not interested in going into many museums, you’ll likely be better off paying a la carte for experiences.

The Salzburg Card is available in 24-hour, 48-hour, and 72-hour increments.

Interested in covering several experiences in Salzburg? Purchase your Salzburg Card today!

Salzburg in Winter: View of River

Tips for Visiting Salzburg’s Christmas Markets

Salzburg may not have quite as many Christmas markets as Vienna in winter–but it was home to our favorites!

Mug rental is a thing.

Austrian Christmas markets all have a system of mug rental, which is incredibly fun once you get the hang of it.

Here’s the deal: on your first drink stop at a Christmas market, you’ll be charged a mug rental fee (usually 3-5 Euros). From there, you can go from stall to stall and have your mug filled with as many drinks as you like.

At the end of your visit, you can then turn in your mug at any of the drink stalls and get your deposit back–or keep the mug as a cute and inexpensive souvenir.

Each market has its own distinct mugs, so keep an eye out for your favorites (and consider heading home with a couple).

Santa Mug Christmas market in Vienna

Be sure to visit at least a couple of different markets.

Salzburg’s main Christmas market is absolutely fabulous, but there are smaller Christmas markets to be found all over the city. We particularly loved the tiny one next to the Mirabell Gardens!

Eating at the Christmas markets is surprisingly affordable by Salzburg standards.

Sure, the prices are high compared to buying groceries–but if you’re looking for a reasonably inexpensive meal out in Salzburg, you’ll do better on price at the Christmas markets than a traditional restaurant.

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Check the opening dates before finalizing your trip.

Salzburg’s Christmas markets tend to open in late November, but the date varies from year to year.

Sadly, unlike in some places, they don’t tend to stay open until January–the main Salzburg Christmas market closes promptly after Christmas.

Salzburg in WInter: Carved Houses at Christmas Market

Bring cash, and ideally small bills.

Some stalls do take cards, but not all–better to come with Euros in hand.

Be sure to visit at least once during the day and once at night.

The atmosphere of the Salzburg Christmas markets is wonderful at all times, but they truly come alive at night, when locals head out for a bite to eat (often with their kids and dogs along as well) and musical performances often take place.

That being said, don’t discount a daytime visit, either–you’ll have more elbow room, better light for photos, and an easier time shopping during daytime visits.

Not all markets are priced equally.

Unsurprisingly, Salzburg’s main Christmas market is a bit pricier than some of the lesser-known ones.

If you’re looking for something that will be available just about anywhere (like Mozartkugeln, for example), consider picking it up at one of the smaller markets.

Winter in Salzburg: Christmas Market Booth

Tips for Visiting Salzburg in Winter

Consider the crowds in December.

Due to the legendary Christmas markets, December is a very popular time to visit Salzburg, so come prepared for crowds!

Practically speaking, this means two things: 1) book your lodging as soon as you can commit to dates (more on that in the where to stay section below), and 2) consider visiting Salzburg on at least one weekday.

We spent time in Salzburg both over a weekend and during the week in December, and there’s no doubt that we had more space to spread out (and take photos) at the markets during the week!

Salzburg in WInter: Christmas Market Booth

Get ready to bundle up.

Salzburg’s winters aren’t the extreme weather you need to prepare for in, say, Finnish Lapland. If you hail from Wisconsin or Winnipeg, no worries–you’ve got this.

For those of us who hail from warmer climates, you may need to do a bit of winter clothes shopping before jetting off to Salzburg during winter–scroll down to the what to wear section of this guide for more details on what to bring!

The short version: lots and lots of layers.

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Take advantage of the bus if you need it.

Salzburg’s bus system is a bit pricey at 2.7 Euros/ticket (or less if you buy a pack of five in advance), but it is also extremely clean, efficient, and easy to use–just what you would expect from Austria, right?

If the weather is particularly cold or you get caught in a rainstorm, remember you have the option available and can buy tickets onboard.

Salzburg in Winter: Pink Building

Winter Weather in Salzburg

High temperatures average between 3-6 degrees Celsius / 37-42 degrees Fahrenheit.

In other words, it’s quite chilly to those of us who spent most of their lives in warm climates, but winter in Salzburg can be very comfortable as long as you come prepared and dress the part!

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Hope for snow, but there aren’t guarantees.

Though Salzburg does tend to get plenty of snow throughout the winter, it may not stick for long.

During our trip to Salzburg in December, we experienced everything from temperatures well below freezing to those that climbed toward 50 degrees Fahrenheit–so while it did snow some at night, it didn’t tend to stick around long during the day.

Remember that the days will be short.

During winter, Salzburg averages around 9 hours of daylight, so be sure to use each of them wisely!

Salzburg in Winter: Walking Area

What to Wear During Winter in Salzburg

The key to being comfortable during winter in Salzburg is simple: layers.

My winter in Salzburg uniform was essentially: two pairs of tights (one fleece lined), warm boots, a dress, a light jacket/extra layer, a coat, hat, scarf, and gloves.

Jeremy’s was: jeans or slacks, warm boots, one undershirt/t-shirt, one long-sleeved shirt, a coat, a scarf, and sometimes a hat.

The weather was about average for December in Salzburg when we visited, and we were completely comfortable to walk around for hours dressed like that!

As with any destination, though, be sure to check the weather shortly before leaving–you never know when an unexpected heat wave or cold snap could hit.

Salzburg in WInter: Man with mug rental

Be sure to add these items to your winter packing list for Salzburg:

A Fashionable Coat

It’s going to be in basically all your outdoor photos, so make it one you look good in!

Also look for something lined (for extra warmth), and consider wearing at least two layers underneath it depending on the weather.

I wore something similar to this one and was very comfortable with it in Salzburg.

For men, Jeremy wears one similar to this and loves it.

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Scarf, Hat & Gloves

We’ve ended up picking up way too many of these over the years in various destinations where we got cold and had to have something immediately–and the end result is some cool pieces that have a fun story behind them, and some “meh” items that were a bit of a waste and we never wore again after leaving.

Better to bring what you need and shop for souvenirs as you like!

These items are similar to what I wore in Salzburg (I’m especially partial to the hat): cozy hat, scarf & gloves.

Jeremy was comfortable with something like this: hat & scarf.

Winter in Salzburg: Girl at Christmas Market

Winter Boots

I lost a pair of lovely Italian leather boots shortly before our winter trip to Salzburg, and while I’m still annoyed that I lost them, I’m so glad that the situation compelled me into buying a warmer pair–I would have been freezing otherwise!

Look for something cozy and designed for winter weather, and ideally at least water-resistant in case of snow or rain.

I have a pair similar to these that I love and keep my feet incredibly warm during a long day of exploring.

Fleece Leggings

There’s just something about fleece-lined leggings that makes everything so much cozier. I basically live in mine when traveling in cold destinations, so depending on how long you’re visiting Salzburg in winter, you may want to bring a few pairs!

I have some similar to these that I love.

Salzburg in Winter: Cityscape

What to Pack for Salzburg in Winter

Travel Adaptors for Austria — If you’re coming from outside of Europe, you’ll definitely want to make sure you can plug in your electronics once you arrive!

Nalgene — In nearly 40 countries of travel, Austria has some of the best tap water we have ever tasted. Don’t waste your money (or the planet’s plastic) by buying water on the road, and bring a Nalgene with you instead.

If you’re visiting in December, this will come in extra handy at the Christmas markets, where salty snacks abound.

Umbrella — Winter weather in Salzburg isn’t exceptionally rainy, but there’s still a chance of getting hit with a storm or two (we did). Come prepared with a travel umbrella!

Salzburg in Winter: Mirabell Gardens

Lotion — Winter in Salzburg can be rough on the skin–be sure to pack a moisturizing lotion.

Lip Balm — You know what’s not fun? Eating pretzels and sausages with chapped lips.

Portable USB Charger — Avoid having your phone die when you’re out exploring, and throw a portable USD charger in your day bag! They also come in particularly handy on long flights.

Purell Hand Sanitizer — Christmas markets in particular tend to mean lots of finger foods, eaten outside, often not near a bathroom where you can wash your hands. Bringing along hand sanitizer will make your life much easier.

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Travel Journal — We can testify that travel memories that aren’t written down quickly can often fade–especially the small details that may not seem special now, but will mean a lot more five or ten years down the road. If you don’t want to commit a lot of time to writing each night, I’m a big fan of this One Line a Day Journal that allows you to easily track your experiences over five years. I’m almost two years into mine now and adore it!

Money Belt This is up to you: we no longer use a money belt, but if you’re more comfortable having your passport with you at all times in Austria, you can consider bringing one. We used to use this one and had no complaints.

Travel Insurance — We don’t ever suggest traveling without travel insurance–anything can happen, and this is definitely a case of better safe than sorry. We use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Salzburg.

Salzburg in Winter: Downtown Buildings

Where to Stay in Salzburg in Winter

Ideally, you’ll want to stay within walking distance of the Altstadt/Old Town during winter in Salzburg–when you’re deciding where to stay in Salzburg, remember that closer is better!

While Salzburg’s bus system is incredibly efficient, it’s also pricey at 2.7 Euros/ticket (or a bit less if you buy in packs for 5), and it’s a hassle to worry about catching a bus to head into the center of town if you can avoid it.

Also: as I mentioned above, if you’re traveling to Salzburg when the Christmas markets are open, book your hotel ASAP! We booked only 10 days or so before arriving, and were shocked at the lack of availability–in retrospect, though, that was a silly mistake on our part.

Salzburg has the most magical Christmas markets in Austria in our (biased) opinion and is also an easy addition to a Germany Christmas market trip, so it’s a popular spot during the holiday season!

Budget

Pension Jahn — If you’re hoping to stay on a budget during your winter Salzburg trip, the easiest way to do so will be to sacrifice a bit on location. While Pension Jahn is about a 25-minute walk from the Salzburg Cathedral in the heart of the Altstadt, it’s only a manageable 10-minute walk from the Mirabell Palace! Boasting thousands of solid reviews, Pension Jahn is a very comfortable budget choice in Salzburg.

Check rates & book your stay at Pension Jahn!

Salzburg in Winter: View of Altstadt

Midrange

Star Inn Hotel — Located just a short walk from the Altstadt and in the heart of Salzburg’s tourism center (the Mozart Residence and Mirabell Gardens are practically next door), the Star Inn Hotel is a fantastic option in Salzburg. Housed in a 15th century building, the Star Inn Hotel provides a great mix of historical charm and modern amenities–and has the reviews to back it up.

Check rates & book your stay at Star Inn Hotel!

Luxury

Hotel Elefant — Tucked into the heart of Salzburg, Altstadt, you could not find a better location for a trip to Salzburg in winter–if you’re visiting in December, the Christmas market will be just a 5-minute walk away! Closely located to Salzburg’s best attractions and home to spacious, modern rooms and a delightful included breakfast, you can’t go wrong at Hotel Elefant.

Check rates & book your stay at Hotel Elefant!

Salzburg in Winter: Yellow House

Alternative: Airbnb

When we booked our lodging for our winter Salzburg trip, we found surprisingly few options in the price range we were hoping to spend–and we ended up at this beautiful apartment from Airbnb.

It’s about a 30-minute walk or 10-minute bus ride from the center (we usually walked in and took the bus home), across from a grocery store, and hosted by an incredibly warm and generous woman who treated us like her long-lost children.

We had a fabulous experience, and though we would have liked to be closer to the center, we can absolutely recommend this place to anyone passing through Salzburg who doesn’t mind being a bit away from the action.

Never tried Airbnb? Sign up with our link for a discount on your first stay!

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Salzburg in Winter: Christmas Markets & Beyond! #salzburg #austria #winter #travel #christmasmarkets

 

16 thoughts on “Salzburg in Winter: A Massively Detailed Guide”

  1. This has some great advice and things that are a must etc. As a frequent visitor to Salzburg I would like to add that another great low budget hotel is Pension Adlerhof which includes breakfast and is close to the train station and bus station. Also mid range is Achat PlazaZum Hirschen. Don’t forget to also visit the Lake District of St Gilgen and St Wolfgang where Mozart’s mother is from and are quintended villages to visit. As to bus fare I actually find that it is cheap at €2.70 for a 24 hours period and unlimited use. I live in the UK where bus travel is about €5.50 and is only valid for 12 hours. You can get the Bus 150 or 151 up to the lake district for €7 for 24 hours travel in region. Either way I agree to what these 2 have suggested.

    Reply
  2. Hi Kate, planning on going to Paris for New Year’s Eve and trying to decide whether to head to South of France or Vienna, Salzburg, Hallstatt for the remainder of the time. We will be in Paris till 1st Jan and then head out. If we did picked Austria then we would stay in Vienna and do day trips (drive) to Salzburg and Hallstatt.We’ll need to head back on the 5th of Jan. Any advice? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Ah, sounds like a great trip! To be fair I’ve never been to the south of France (I’m assuming you mean the Provence or French Riviera area?) during the winter season, but I do associate Austria more with winter travel, so I’d probably choose that one! Just personal preference. I would be cautious of planning day trips to Salzburg and Hallstatt from Vienna, though–that’s a 3+ hour drive in each direction, assuming no traffic or adverse conditions, for each of them.

      If you want another option to look at in France, Alsace is a great winter destination (though the markets and such will be over by the 1st) and Chamonix and the surrounding area is as well!

      Reply
  3. Thanks for the great travel info. Spending a week in Salzburg during Christmas. Daughter is there for study abroad. Have been wondering what to do and how to book it so your info was amazing.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Mike! Glad we could help–hope your trip is amazing & that your daughter is loving her study abroad program!

      Reply
    • No Christmas markets, but a better chance of snow and fewer crowds, at least! If I were planning a trip to Salzburg in February I’d probably book a Mozart concert, possibly take a day trip to Hallstatt (which should also be less crowded in February than December), and focus on lots of cafes and museums. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Hello! Our family has been to Salzburg before, but not at Christmas. Could you provide some insight on visiting Salzburg Dec 24th thru 26th, 2020? We will arrive on the 24th and arrival time is up to us. Should we arrive early so not to miss anything, and any suggestions on Christmas Eve dinner? On Christmas, any suggestions on Christmas Day meals? I believe we plan to take a tour that day as it appears sleigh tours and the castle are operating that day. My main question concerns Dec 26th. Will most everything be closed on that day? I would really like to visit the local shops that day, because I’m assuming most close early on the 24th (if open at all) and are closed on the 25th. Would a day tour to Hallstatt make sense on any of those days, particularly the 26th? Finally, are the Christmas markets really open on the 25th and 26th as many websites indicate? Thank you for any info.

    Reply
    • Hi Susie!

      We intentionally stayed away from tourism on the 24th-26th ourselves, so can’t offer much first-person advice on these.

      My understanding is that the Christmas market will definitely be open–that’s fairly typical, though it might close early on Christmas. The official website tends to be pretty reliable on that front!

      Outside of the market, you can expect much of the city to be shut down on December 26th, yes. You’ll likely find a small number of businesses open in the heart of the tourist center, but I wouldn’t count on doing anything specific that day!

      Reply
  5. Hi guys,
    My husband and are planning to go Salzburg in mid December for the weekends-
    Can you recommend which location to stay that has a vibrant Lifestyle or neighbourhood with cosy Cafes and restaurant -Is there a full day tout to Hallstad and how can we book them
    We love to walkabout to discover and experience new things

    Reply
    • Hi Tina! Salzburg’s historic center will have all you’re looking for in terms of being in the center of the action (with plenty of nearby cafes).

      There are day trips to Hallstatt available, we recommend looking on Get Your Guide, where we book most of our tours!

      Reply

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